A funny thing happens sometimes when one is standing around the buffet table chatting (besides the fact that I can actually hear myself getting fatter…), people occasionally say things that are absolutely perfect fodder for this blog.
The conversation went something like this: A visitor: “So are you from Winona?”
Me: “No, but I’ve lived here for about 16 years.”
The visitor: “How long do you have to live in Winona to feel like you’re ‘from’ Winona?”
Ha. Now that’s a good question. So I started thinking. There’s an adage here I’ve often heard that says you have to be born in Winona to be ‘from’ Winona. Heck, I’ve talked to people who say things like, “I’m not from Winona but I’ve lived here for 64 years…”
But I’m going to have to disagree with that premise. I think that being from a place is better measured by the extent to which you know it’s secrets: It’s little hole-in-the-wall places and unique oddities and attractions that make it unlike anywhere else. You have to put in some time around a place to discover these pearls, or get lucky and stumble across them, or find a blog like this. However you get there, nothing can make you feel more at home in a community than being in the know about its places… so to that end, if you want to feel like a local, this is the list.
If you can pronounce Bub’s Brewing Co. correctly and without snickering, that probably makes you a local. A cool historic eatery on Fourth Street downtown, Bub’s is pronounced like ‘boobs’ (sorry blog gods – don’t hit me with a spam marker), but everyone in town knows it is named after one of its early brewmeisters and hey, that’s just how his name was pronounced. When you’re there, try one of their specialties like gigantic cellar mushrooms stuffed with cream cheese, a burger with a fried egg on it, or a burger piled with coleslaw (not my speed, but I know people who absolutely love it).
If you know which bar in town has a little television in the men’s restroom, that probably makes you a local. The answer is Rosie’s, a little pub tucked over on the East End at the corner of Buchanan and 9th Street. Rosie’s, run, of course, by Rosie, kind of looks like a house on the outside, and on the inside you’ll find the most authentic cross section of locals in town. It’s a sweet little place with wood floors and a screened porch with a swing, and the bathrooms are hands-down the best outfitted washrooms in Winona. Now, I’ve never *watched* TV in the men’s bathroom, but all the guys go on about it. The women’s restroom doesn’t have a TV, but it does have a beautiful little dressing table stocked with all the things you’d find on your vanity at home, just in case you need a little primping. But the truth is you won’t feel like you need to do much primping at Rosie’s because it feels a lot like being at home.
Poot’s Sports Palace is, in my humble opinion, one of the best kept local secrets in town, but I’m telling you, you’ve got to find this place. Like Rosie’s, it looks a little bit like a house on the outside of its facade at Seventh and Carimona, but locals for generations know about it because it’s been a corner pub just about since Prohibition. Inside, Matt Pelowski, who is something of a gourmet, makes these fantastic pizzas called Pootzas covered with just about whatever you can dream up, and there are few places that could scratch the pizza urge better. It’s a tiny little bar and you almost feel like you’re sitting in Matt’s kitchen when you’re there, but that hominess is part of its charm. Matt loves to chat and he will never forget your name, for real. He might even write about you in his daily newsletter, a morning e-mail that goes out to a list more than 500 names strong of people who found Poot’s, love it, and want to feel close to it even if they’re half way around the world.
If you know where the Polish Cultural Institute is, you’re probably from Winona. Bonus points if you’ve been inside, because this place is a gem. Father Paul Breza founded the institute at the corner of Liberty and Second streets more than 30 years ago, and since then has been amassing a collection that tells the story of Polish immigration to the region around Winona. Artifacts and first-person narratives make this like a mini Ellis Island for Polish people, and even if you’re not Polish, it’s an interesting way to while away an afternoon. And chat with Father Breza if you can – he’s pretty cool 🙂 Tell him I said hello.
Okay – this is my short list of local secrets – I’d love to hear some of yours. Come on folks, let’s share, and maybe create a whole new batch of Winonans in the process~